By Jennifer Wessner Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD — An Illinois lawmaker on Wednesday announced his proposal to make Illinois' historically corrupt political culture more transparent.
State Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, laid out a plan that would increase the amount of personal financial information that candidates and public officials must disclose in order to run for or hold public office.
"We're calling for full and complete and transparent financial disclosure for candidates and public officials,” he said. “We want to make sure that people who are in positions of leadership and decision-making in the state of Illinois don't have any conflicts of interest."
Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said Kotowski’s plan builds on existing Illinois law.
"This is really a refinement of a program we've had on the books for decades now and that's the statement of economic interest,” Canary said. “And the real reason here is to highlight the conflicts of interests."
Kotowski said the existing statement of economic interest does not do enough to hold candidates and officials accountable.
His plan would require future and current elected officials to disclose all income, donations, property interest, liabilities and all previous employment to voters. Additionally, they would be required to outline the financial interests of all immediate family members.
Kotowski said the reluctance of candidates such as Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady and GOP lieutenant governor candidate Jason Plummer to release their tax returns this year has shed light on the problem.
“The truth is right now we are completely in the dark about people's financial picture when they're running for top leadership positions,” Kotowski said. “And that's got to give people pause.”
Since former governor and now convicted felon Rod Blagojevich was impeached in early 2009, the Illinois legislature has passed several laws with similar objectives as Kotowski’s proposal. Illinois enacted a major ethics reform law shortly before Blagojevich’s ouster and passed campaign finance reform last December.
Critics say the passage of such strict reforms puts running for political office out of reach for the average citizen.
Chris Mooney, professor of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield, said he sees where critics are coming from.
"It's another onerous, or potentially onerous, hurdle that might keep some people from serving the public," he said. "Of course, the other side of that is if someone has something to hide, we don't want them serving in public. But that's a place where people have differing opinions."
Canary said the criticism is unfounded since Kotowski's proposal expands on a law already on the books.
"You have to be really careful,” Canary said. “Because what you want to do is make sure it’s your friends and neighbors who can run for office, whoever those may be. And you don't want to make it so complicated that only the professional with the team of legal experts can come on board, but this is already a requirement. “
But Kotowski said the problem has reached a point where it's worth the risk of alienating a few would-be politicians.
"The fact is right now we have a climate in our state where some people are resistant to even reveal the most basic information,” Kotowski said.
But Canary acknowledges this proposal will not root out all backroom deals.
"I don't think that this will eradicate that,” Canary said. “Politics, like most businesses, are relationship businesses. But statements of economic interests are tools that we use in almost every state, we use them nationally and they really very simply say, where are your investments. It is the notion that when you elect a public official they should not be profiting at the public well."
Kotowski realizes his plan might not fix the problem, but he said it would allow the public to have a better understanding of who they are voting for than they have now.